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Gravel trails of the coast and Cairngorms — The Central Belter

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Gravel trails of the coast and Cairngorms — The Central Belter

Mountain Biking Collection by Katherine Moore

20

Tours

94:43 h

755 mi

43,950 ft

Are you looking for a challenging route that combines the beauty of historic cities, ancient ruins and the sheer scale of the Cairngorms National Park with the rough and rugged coastline of the North Sea? Then the Central Belter is the bikepacking route for you.

Spanning no less than 755 miles (1215 km), the route starts and finishes on the beaches of Scotland’s vibrant capital city. Here I propose twenty stages which vary in length according to how hilly each stage is, between 26.3 miles (42.4 km) and 51.7 miles (83.2 km).

You’ll start by tracing much of the Capital Trail, another of Markus Stitz’s routes (komoot.com/collection/902010/capital-trail). This heads south to the Scottish Borderlands to enjoy the Lammermuir Hills, then back toward Edinburgh via the Pentland Hills. Explore the industrial urbanisation, ancient ruins and country parks between Edinburgh and Glasgow, before turning north.

The second half of the route traverses the Cairngorms, taking in much of the Highland Trail 550, Cairngorms Loop (komoot.com/collection/901294/cairngorms-loop) and Great North Trail (komoot.com/collection/904449/britain-s-newest-long-distance-challenge-great-north-trail). It then leaves this part of the Grampians behind to trace the coastline via Angus and Fife.

In Scotland you can wild camp legally thanks to the Right To Roam act (see more at scotways.com/faq/law-on-statutory-access-rights). As you won’t find many accommodation options on the first half of the route, you’ll need to pack your camping kit. The second half has plenty of hotels, guesthouses and paid campsites to choose from, but make sure you book ahead, especially during the summer months.

Like many of the routes in Scotland, your best bet is late spring or early autumn, avoiding the main midge season (and busy tourism season) while still trying to get some of the better weather and drier trails.

I’d really recommend a mountain bike or at least a gravel bike with 40mm+ tyres for this route, as there are some technical sections and tough climbs, made even harder with bikepacking bags added into the mix.

You start and finish the Central Belter on Portobello Beach, which is an easy ride from Edinburgh’s main station, Edinburgh Waverley, or even closer from local station Brunstane. Check before you travel in case you need to book your bike on the train too. Having said this, you can start from wherever you like along the route, with many train stations along the way there are plenty of good options.

Read more about the route at bikepackingscotland.com/centralbelter

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The Central Belter

745 mi

43,400 ft

43,400 ft

Last updated: November 19, 2021

Tours & Highlights

  • Intermediate
    04:41
    36.2 mi
    7.8 mph
    1,200 ft
    1,175 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first stage of the Central Belter is a coastal one, leaving the beautiful Portobello beach and promenade in Edinburgh city and tracing the shoreline south to North Berwick. You’ll cover 36.2 miles (58.3 km) here, with a couple of easy climbs to get you warmed up!

    

    Leave the bustle and character of

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:09
    41.3 mi
    8.0 mph
    3,150 ft
    2,575 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    The second stage of 41.3 miles (66.5 km) will take you from the lively coastal town of North Berwick south to the town of Lauder in the Scottish Borders. There’s a little more climbing than descending in the stage over the Lammermuir Hills, which should set you up for some of the hillier stages ahead

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    07:02
    40.5 mi
    5.8 mph
    3,875 ft
    3,975 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    From Lauder to the outdoor lover’s town of Innerleithen, the third stage covers 40.5 miles (65.2 km). The day mostly follows the way of the Capital Trail, another bikepacking route by the same rider, Markus Stitz.

    

    The day starts almost immediately off-road, climbing gently out of Lauder heading South

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    04:06
    27.0 mi
    6.6 mph
    3,275 ft
    3,000 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    With most of the climbing at the start of the stage, this 26.3 mile (42.4 km) leg of the Central Belter is shorter ride through pretty Peebles to the edge of the Pentland Hills.

    

    After leaving Innerleithen, the road gives way to unpaved doubletrack on the Southern Upland Way at Glen House Castle, and after

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    03:13
    30.5 mi
    9.5 mph
    1,150 ft
    1,925 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    From the Pentland Hills to the Firth of Forth, this 30.5 mile (49.1 km) stage takes you back past Edinburgh as you complete the first, southern loop of the Central Belter.

    

    Start your day by taking the Carlops-Balerno MTB trail across the Pentland Hills. You’re already quite high up so there’s little climbing

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    06:05
    45.8 mi
    7.5 mph
    2,825 ft
    2,750 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    From Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth to Falkirk on the Forth and Clyde Canal isn’t far, but there again today’s 41 mile (74.1 km) route is anything but direct! To link the two you’ll meander through the Kinneil Estate, back toward Blackness, then down through Beecraigs Country Park, Muiravonside Country

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    04:00
    32.0 mi
    8.0 mph
    2,125 ft
    2,075 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Stage 7 is a funny one, looping three times to finish almost back where you started! Despite this, you’ll ride 32 miles (51.4 km), past the Kelpies and the Canal Basin, through Plean Country Park, and then finishing back on the Forth and Clyde Canal near Bonnybridge.

    

    It’s a gentle start to the day as

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    06:10
    51.7 mi
    8.4 mph
    2,525 ft
    2,400 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    This longer stage of 51.7 miles (83.2 km) will take you from the village of Bonnybridge into the heart of Glasgow city, then to the north to finish in Strathblane on the edge of the Campsie Fells.

    

    It would be simple to link Falkirk to Glasgow using the canals, but here you take a different track, running

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:43
    45.7 mi
    8.0 mph
    4,325 ft
    4,375 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The ninth stage consists of 45.7 miles (73.6 km) across Stirlingshire from Strathblane to Dunblane, via Stirling city. It’s one of the hillier stages with three major climbs, but the views from some of these high vantage points will make you fall in love with this often overlooked county.

    

    Ease into the

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    03:06
    27.5 mi
    8.9 mph
    1,950 ft
    1,525 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    A shorter stage of 27.5 miles (44.3 km) takes you to the halfway point in the Central Belter, at least in terms of the number of stages completed. There’s only one major climb today up through Glen Ample, and it’s a really spectacular one.

    

    After a few days of pretty urban riding, you’re now heading north

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:06
    40.8 mi
    8.0 mph
    2,475 ft
    1,725 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Start the second half of your Central Belter challenge with a 40.8 mile (65.7 km) stage from the shores of Lochearnhead to the beautiful Loch Lyon, a wonderful place to spend a night in the valley of Glen Lyon.

    

    You’ll follow in the tyre marks of many intrepid bikepacking racers and tourers that have

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    03:13
    26.4 mi
    8.2 mph
    1,525 ft
    2,000 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    A much shorter second stage of 26.3 miles (42.4 km), the way from Loch Lyon to Kinloch Rannoch is another belter (forgive the pun)! Most of the stage tends gently downhill, before one big, steep climb from the Bridge of Balgie to reach Loch Rannoch. This really is the heart of the Grampian Mountains

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:02
    40.6 mi
    8.1 mph
    2,225 ft
    1,875 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    After the shorter stage previously, you’ll be back up to covering 40.6 miles (65.3 km) on this third stage to Kingussie.

    

    Start the day with a big climb after leaving the adventurer’s village of Kinloch Rannoch, up and into Glen Garry on wide gravel doubletrack roads. As you approach Loch Garry you can

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    03:52
    29.6 mi
    7.7 mph
    1,300 ft
    1,250 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    You’ll fall head over heels for the Cairngorms with today’s 29.6 mile (47.6 km) stage in the heart of the National Park, taking in many of the iconic landmarks featured in the Cairngorms Loop.

    

    The first half of the stage is characterised by a very long but gradual climb, but as you know, what goes up

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:43
    46.6 mi
    8.2 mph
    3,125 ft
    3,575 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    This fifth stage is the longest of them all at 46.6 miles (75 km), so you’ll be glad of an early start and resupply from the town of Braemar today.

    

    You’ll head east to start in this stage, then south toward the coastline which forms the second half of the Central Belter. With one exception, the stage

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    03:39
    39.7 mi
    10.9 mph
    1,075 ft
    1,675 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    From the edge of the Cairngorms National Park in little Tarfside, this stage takes you over 39.7 miles (63.9 km) to the North Sea, finishing on the cliffs by Red Castle.

    

    With five stages already in the legs, you may be pleased to hear that this stage features more descending than climbing! In fact, the

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    05:03
    45.0 mi
    8.9 mph
    1,200 ft
    1,200 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Stage 7 is the first full stage of coastal riding, hugging the Angus coastline for 45 miles (72.5 km) to Leuchars in Fife. You’ll cross the Firth of Tay from Dundee to Newport-on-Tay as you enjoy another flatter day.

    

    Bid goodbye to the beautiful Lunan Bay as you start to head south along lanes past Ethie

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    04:24
    30.6 mi
    7.0 mph
    775 ft
    825 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    On your journey along the coastline towards Edinburgh, this 30.6 mile (49.3 km) stage will take you through the golfer’s mecca of St Andrews, past limestone coastal caves and past the ruins of Newark Castle.

    

    From Leuchars pass the Eden Estuary local nature reserve and take the beautiful road to St Andrews

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    04:45
    35.3 mi
    7.4 mph
    2,075 ft
    1,675 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    In this penultimate stage, you’ll leave the coastline to head inland to Loch Leven in Kinross, riding a total of 35.3 miles (56.8 km). After a more gentle few days along the seaside, you’ll turn back into the hills today.

    

    Start by following the coastline to Dumbarnie Links Nature Reserve to the west

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    04:44
    42.0 mi
    8.9 mph
    1,800 ft
    2,200 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    There are plenty of sights on your way into Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh on the final stage, with 42 miles (67.6 km) leading you to the Portobello Promenade. The first half of the ride is quite hilly, but then after dropping down to near sea-level it’s much more gentle.

    

    Head south to start, through

    by Katherine Moore

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    20
  • Distance
    755 mi
  • Duration
    94:43 h
  • Elevation
    43,950 ft

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Gravel trails of the coast and Cairngorms — The Central Belter

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